When seven-time defending Na Ohana O Na Hui Wa’a champion Kaneohe Canoe Club won the outrigger canoe paddling organization’s season-opening regatta two months ago, it appeared to be business as usual.
The dynastic club built and maintained its reign, thanks to a strong foundation of youth paddlers, and while those numbers declined this season, Kaneohe seemed poised to build upon its impressive resume regardless of the setback.
However, as the season unfolded, Kaneohe won just one more race—tying for the victory with the Waikiki Beach Boys—while two up-and-coming clubs worked their way into the fold. Na Keiki O Ka Mo’i won a season-best four regattas out of a possible seven official contests and Manu O Ke Kai also earned a victory in what has proved to be one of the most unpredictable regatta seasons in recent history.
Nearly 1,500 paddlers representing Hui Wa’a’s 18 member clubs will hit the waters of Keehi Lagoon tomorrow for the organization’s championship regatta.
Paddlers in age divisions ranging from 12 and under to 60 and above will compete in 39 races spanning a quarter mile to 1.5 miles.
In addition to competing for the overall organization title, crews will attempt to add to their cumulative point totals, which will determine the two berths Hui Wa’a receives for each race in the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association’s State Championship Regatta on Aug. 7, also at Keehi Lagoon.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks after we won the Maili race," said Na Keiki O Ka Mo’i coach Lisa Ka’aekuahiwi, who believes the last time her club won the Hui Wa’a title was "at least" 20 years ago.
Ka Mo’i are one of the favorites to win both the AAA division (25-39 crews entered) and the overall title, thanks to an increase in membership and stellar coaching at all levels.
"I can taste it this time," Ka’aekuahiwi said. "It’s reachable. We have solid numbers in all different age groups. If we don’t win, how’s that going to look? You win (four) regattas, but not the championship?"
Manu O Kei Kai will also challenge for the large-club crown, and will rely on its veteran men’s crews for the majority of its points.
Manu won its first overall regatta crown in the club’s 26-year history this season, and that accomplishment should give the club confidence as it goes after its first Hui Wa’a championship.
Kaneohe and Waikiki are the favorites in the AA division (13-24 crews entered) after trading first- and second-place finishes throughout the season.
While Kaneohe coach Clint Anderson is optimistic that his club will compete for the AA division crown, he admits that the deck is stacked against him when it comes to winning the overall title. From a club population perspective, Kaneohe will have 37 youth paddlers available—normally its bread and butter. But, that figure is more than half of what Kaneohe usually has on its roster.
"Between us and the Beach Boys, we bounced back and forth all season long," said Anderson. "We can only do so much with what we have. It’s not that we’re falling down because we’re (competing) in the AA, but how can you beat someone (in the AAA Division for the overall title) when they have 10 more crews than you?"
Waikiki, which led Hui Wa’a in crew efficiency by averaging better than second place in every race it competed in, will rely on its stellar adult program to counter Kaneohe’s young guns.
"The Beach Boys are very strong. They have a lot to work with," Anderson said.
Ka Mamalahoe has won or tied for the win in the A division (6-12 crews entered) in every official regatta thus far, and will likely lead the small-club field. North Shore, Kumulokahi-Elks and Kalihi-Kai should also vie for the small-club division title.
The Oahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association will hold its championship regatta on Sunday at Keehi Lagoon.